Silent Frisco - Scene Not Heard

What is Silent Frisco?


These words exemplify the mission and lifeblood of Silent Frisco. This San Francisco-based crew of sonic missionaries turns impossible public performance challenges into powerful outpourings of free expression. We use cutting edge technology to enable artistic, political and educational expression in locations where “noise” has previously made such action impractical or illegal.

Silent Frisco @ Golden Gate Park... photo by Erik Anderson

In 2013 the Bay Area’s own techno-social trailblazers, Silent Frisco, instilled stealthy sonic scenery in to a Great Lawn, a Great Lake, two Atlantic Beaches, five Pacific beaches, a Wave House, an Electric Forest, an Enchanted Forest, a Rocky Mountain ranch, an Oregon redwood grove, a California Carousel, a Museum on the Miracle Mile, a Museum in Miami Beach, a West Side Courtyard, a Hollywood Backyard, a Hawaiian Roof Deck, and the Metropolitan Opera’s front steps. This astounding run of more than 100 days of activation ended with a “Silent Frisco on Ice” show that sold out in less than 24 hours. The quickly-organized follow-up event sold out in 52 minutes. Clearly, Silent Frisco is capturing the imaginations of outgoing, creative, music lovers across the USA.

Founded and directed by the USA’s first Silent Disco DJ, Robbie “Motion Potion” Kowal, Silent Frisco is managed by SunsetSF, a 17-year-old Bay Area full-service production company. Our extensive concert & festival production, marketing, talent buying, operations and management experience are unmatched in Silent Disco. Others may have some “gear”, but no-one has the practical know-how and creativity borne of more than 1000 concerts, festivals and corporate events produced. In 2013 alone, Silent Frisco activated over 100 days at concerts, after-hours, picnics, movie screenings and festivals. Our stable of top-tier in-house talent, longstanding direct connections with nationwide talent, and deep relationships with the top agencies and managers in the business give our clients a distinct head-start towards success. We have consistently blazed new trails leading the US silent disco community on its first national tours, and first activations in beaches, parks, and boats.

2012/2013 Clients

Our 2012/2013 clients included Fiat USA, Dos Equis, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, MacWorld, Oracle World, Yahoo, Treasure Island Music Fest, L.A. County Museum of Art, Electric Forest, Lightning in a Bottle, Gathering of the Vibes, Camp Bisco, Ghost Ship Halloween, High Sierra Music Festival, Hornings Hideout, Humboldt Greenweek, Sonic Bloom, Another Planet Entertainment, Insomniac Events, Madison House Presents, NoisePop, FreshBakin, World Famous Entertainment, Hartman Studios, Terrapin Presents and many more. Along with monthly residencies in L.A. and S.F.O. we have self-produced magical experiences in clubs and bars, beaches and boats, hilltops and rooftops, subways and skate-parks in 20 U.S. states.

How It Works

We own more than 3000 two-channel, festival-optimized wireless headphones. Custom-designed and sourced directly from industry expert manufacturers, Silent Frisco headsets operate on two simultaneous, long-range feeds, providing the best in audio clarity, volume, and comfort. With this technology, and the creative and operational experience born of 17-years in the business, we enable the music to play while neighbors enjoy peace and quiet.

Hit us up.  Let’s make some magic happen!

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Based in San Francisco, Silent Frisco travels far and wide bringing unique cultural experience to receptive audiences. Silent Frisco is dedicated to the ideals that make the Bay Area an International cultural catalyst: equality, tolerance, creativity, environmental sustainability, and freedom of expression. Silent Frisco’s own events instill and demand a strict respect for our setting and scene for our staff and attendees. At our Ocean Beach San Francisco events alone, we not only managed to sort, and divert 100% of our own waste but partner with Surfrider FOundation to leave our beach spotless. Silent Frisco was the first US Silent Disco vendor to move completely to rechargeable headphones and have worked tirelessly to find ways to minimize environmental impact.


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A Short Subjective History of Silent Disco
by Robbie “MoPo” Kowal

Early History in Europe — From Wikipedia: “Silent Disco”

Silent disco has become a common name1 for a disco where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. Rather than using a speaker system, music is broadcast via a FM-transmitter with the signal being picked up by wireless headphone receivers worn by the participants. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing. Often two DJs compete for listeners. Silent discos are popular at music festivals as they allow dancing to continue past noise curfews. Similar events are “mobile clubbing” gatherings, where a group of people dance to the music on their personal music players.
[/gn_tab] [gn_tab title="Phase 1 / Europe"] Silent Disco has a long history outside of the US. This  Wikipedia entry gives a good rundown of mostly European action beginning as early as 1969. Throughout these years, the concept has been developed overseas, most famously by groups in Germany (Silent Discotheque Berlin), Holland (433 FM Crew), UK (Silent Disco UK, Headphone Disco and Silent Arena), and Australia (Silent Events Australia, Silent Safaris).  Honestly, although different ones make claim to having “thought of it first” I can find no clear evidence to support any single claim, other than the Wikipedia entry. That said, the idea of “ownership” seems to me to be as silly as claiming ownership of the “soundsystem” concept. In reality, it is simply a great idea whose time has come.
[/gn_tab] [gn_tab title="Phase 2 / Bonnaroo"] My first experience, (and that of most Americans) with “Silent Disco” was when Superfly Presents asked me to be their “DJ Guineapig” for their debut of the Bonnaroo Silent Disco in 2007. This was, as far as I can tell, the first Silent Disco in the United States, and it was love at first site for me, and the audience. For this year and the first 3 years, we used one-channel headphones manufactured by KOSS. Other Silent Disco DJs in the early years of Bonnaroo included DJ Logic, Quickie Mart and DJ MEDI4.

From the beginning, Silent Disco at Bonnaroo was a HUGE hit, and the folks at Superfly Presents and AC Entertainment deserve enormous credit for having the foresight and guts to innovate like this. It has become and remains to this day, one of the signature attractions of Bonnaroo.

Scott Goldberg of Digital Media Wire probably said it best … “at 3am on Sunday morning, June 17th, partaking in the revelry of DJ Motion Potion, who was spinning live in the tent, my notion of the Silent Disco changed, and so did the concept and possibilities of a house party. It takes a minute to adjust to the idea that everyone in the tent is listening to the same music, but when you realize the sick beats you’re hearing are from one of the country’s most talented DJ’s, and everyone around you is breaking down their favorite versions of the lawnmower, you slip into Silent Disco heaven with little problem.”

WHAT WE LEARNED:  It was clear from the beginning to the DJs, the audience, and to the gawking bystanders, that this was a unique and unusual music experience. For me, as DJ, what stood out so clearly were 3 aspects that made Silent Disco Music unique:

  • Purity: Unlike at standard clubs/concerts, there is no auditory interference between the artist and the listener. No crowdnoise, no barnoise, no dating hustle. It goes directly from the DJ’s brain to the listeners. This leads to…
  • Creativity: Because the audience is TRULY LISTENING, an artist has more creative freedom. Whereas most club music is “physical” in nature, dependent to some degree on the “feeling” of subwoofers, a Silent Disco requires and rewards DJs singularly for the MUSIC, and less so for the BEATS. So it favors a more creative set. This also can lead to…
  • Call and Response/Karaoke: With no-one to hear what you are “singing” the audience has a greater tendency to sing, chant, rap, shout. The club becomes your personal shower and you don’t care who knows if you know the words, because you can lipsynch the stuff you aren’t sure of. To a bystander, just watching, this is pure comedy. But there’s also a communal magic here that should not be overlooked. WATCHING a concert is one type of experience, PARTICPATING in a Silent Disco, where you dance, sing, laugh and bust moves is a MAGICAL enterprise.  A good example of this can be seen HERE
[/gn_tab] [gn_tab title="Phase 3 / Going National"] The Bonnaroo Silent Disco experience was an incredible launching pad for the imaginations and ambitions of many creative individuals. From 2005-2006 I had thrown some latenight afterparties at Superfly’s Vegoose Music Festival in Las Vegas. In 2007, I asked Superfly to bring Silent Disco to the equation and we did three nights in the courtyard of the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay, again using KOSS headphones.

Soon after this, several new companies began springing up around the United States to satisfy what seemed to be a growing demand for this unique performance concept. Among them are Silent Disco USA, based in Columbus Ohio, Silent Storm Soundsystem, based in Boston, who have been running a regular weekly Silent Disco since 2009. The production crew that ran the Bonnaroo Silent Disco tent formed Silent Events, based in Memphis. The majority of my own Silent Disco work in the past few years has been in collaboration with Silent Events, and their foresight and professionalism has been a key ingredient in helping the Silent Disco concept gain such traction in the United States.

By any standard, the Silent Frisco/Motion Potion/Silent Events collaboration was a key force in expanding Silent Disco around the US. Besides leveraging better sounding, two-channel headphones than the first-generation KOSS models, the years of experience at Bonnaroo helped us move Silent Disco into new formats and places. Silent Events (to my knowledge) produced the first Silent LIVE performance in the US with the band Perpetual Groove, provided the headphones for Bonnaroo 2009-2011 and recently backed a World Cup tour for Coke Zero. Among the events we collaborated on were Sea of Dreams NYE 2010 , Ghost Ship Halloween 2011 and Camp Bisco 2010. In the Spring of 2010, we also worked together on the “Silent Soundclash Tour” a 13 city, 15 show US club tour that was the first ever in the US featuring Silent Disco. These companies are all run by hard-working, professional individuals, and deserve enormous credit for the development of this concept.
[/gn_tab] [gn_tab title="Phase 4 / Making Magic"] When we look back at “Silent Disco” we may some day look at these early experiences in the same way one does early club PA systems. The difference between the scratchy pile of speakers the Beatles used at Candlestick in 1969 and the modern directional line array systems of today could not be pronounced. And though I am proud of the work that I have been a small humble part of in getting Silent Disco in the US, the opportunity for this concept is far more powerful than we have even touched on.

Put simply: SILENT DISCO ALLOWS LIVE PERFORMANCE ANYWHERE. As urban areas become more saturated and gentrified, outdoor art, music and political discourse is being curtailed by “noise complaints”. Our own North Beach Jazz Fest, a 14 year old cultural institution was litigated into oblivion by “concerned neighbours”. Thus only with Silent Disco does art have a fighting chance of reclaiming public spaces. It is to further THIS AGENDA, that in 2009 we began conceiving and executing “Silent Frisco” events.

Silent Frisco is committed to bringing performances back to public spaces, preferably those where loudspeakers are either impractical or illegal. Among our first experiments was on Mothers Day 2010 when we brought legendary downtepo producer Tipper to San Francisco landmark Ocean Beach. In the shadow of the Cliff House, we watched the sun go down to the otherworldly beats of this unique artist. (WATCH). The fact that we could explore hundreds of square yards of this outdoor landmark and still share the exact same communal musical experience was an incredible breaktrough.  Since then, Silent Frisco returned to Ocean Beach with Random Rab in the Fall of 2010, brought Canadian disco legend Neighbour to the urban garden of Jones SF in the winter of 2010.

In March of 2011, Silent Frisco made perhaps its boldest statement to date with “Silent Southby” in Austin Texas. The Enchanted Forest has long been one of Austin’s most unique and wonderful outdoor venues. In recent years E.F. operations have been curtailed by angry neighbors who wanted the “noise” to stop. We were honored when we were given the opportunity to be a part of the revival of this historic art space with an all night Silent Disco event that closed SXSW 2011. Among the artists in this now legendary lineup were Ghislain Poirier (Ninja Tune), Nickodemus (ESL/Turntables on the Hudson), DRM (Bastard Jazz), Rex Riddm (Fort Knox), Platurn (Oakland Faders), Quickie Mart, Eric Sharp, Panic Bomber and MoPo. The party rang on 2 channels for more than 12 hours, surrounded by trees, an acoustic stage, vaudeville acts, running children, magic in the air all under a full moon. This was the TRUE PROMISE of Silent Disco revealed in full. Music in a setting where there previously could be none.
[/gn_tab] [gn_tab title="The Future"] Not long after “Silent Southby” the Silent Frisco team acquired its own custom headphones to allow us to do more events, in more places, for more people… “to boldly go” . The new headphones are 2-channel models with improved sound and comfort (our opinion) and now have LED lights in them revealing to all, which channel a listener has chosen. Among the first events that we will be participating in in 2011 are HARMONY FESTIVAL, HIGH SIERRA MUSIC FESTIVAL, CAMP BISCO, CAMP EUFORIA FESTIVAL, GATHERING of the VIBES, UNCLE UNCANNY’s MUSIC FESTIVAL, and EARTHDANCE NORTHERN CALIFORNIA.  Although the summer of 2011 will be mostly about experimentation and fulfilling the specific needs of these clients, we will be scheming towards a far more intentional and elaborate manifestation of what Silent Disco can do in the future.

One day we hope to see the entire world united as “One Nation Under A Groove” and when this happens, we think Silent Disco will be the manner in which the groove arrives.
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